A friend mentioned recently that she and her partner experience a lot of near misses in their interactions. As she put it, “communication zings by,” and it’s only later that she realizes what she heard maybe wasn’t exactly what was said – and vice versa. And this is a couple who’ve been happily together for over 20 years!
We all know that different people have different communication styles. Some people want details, others want the high-level picture; some wait till they have a concrete plan, others brainstorm fledgeling ideas; some talk easily about feelings and emotions, and others are more private and reserved.
Of course there’s no right or wrong in whatever style we prefer. But no matter how much we may be aware of these differences from a conceptual standpoint, when it comes to our closest relationships we often struggle to really get it on a day-to-day practical level. Instead, we start thinking things like, If she really loved me, she would listen better, and If he really cared, he’d ask me what’s wrong.
The closer we want to feel with someone, all too often, the further we actually do feel.
Then there are those moments when the communication clicks instead of zinging by … and we experience the connection and mutual intimacy that, in the end, we all yearn for.
Logic, facts, practicality, rationality, planning …
Feelings, emotions, sensitivity, intuition, flow …
The dance of connection asks us to take all of that into account.
There’s no blueprint for this dance. I can’t paint footsteps on the floor to lead you through the waltz, tango, or jitterbug. But there are some guiding principles that, if you adopt them, will help you stop stepping on each other’s toes.
I’d be willing to bet you’ve heard at least some of these suggestions before. But don’t just click off this page. Instead, take a moment to read my commentary, which might offer some different perspectives.
1. Assume good intent
We know this is a good and generous approach. But what typically happens is that we put conditions around it, conditions that are usually about agreement – or at least not-too-differing disagreement. If he’s more or less in the same ball-park I’m in, I’ll assume good intent. If, however, we’re far apart in our opinions, then I’ll assume he’s wrong, malicious, and possibly an idiot.
Assume good intent no matter what you may be thinking about whatever they’re saying or asking. (If you absolutely know someone is untrustworthy, of course, this no longer applies – but then, if you absolutely know they’re untrustworthy, you’re probably not attempting to connect more closely with them!)
2. Listen to feel
We’re all guilty of listening to debate.
What if you listened … not just to understand … but to feel?
This is similar to what I wrote about in this post about practicing empathy. What is the other person’s experience as they talk to you? What feelings are they describing or displaying?
And how do your answers to these questions change your awareness of what they’re communicating?
3. Interpret and validate
As you converse with someone, you’ll find yourself doing a certain amount of interpretation.
Don’t assume your interpretation is accurate.
My husband is an idea-bouncer. He loves to explore possibilities out loud.
I’m a planner, and I tend to assume that people’s suggestions are definitive statements of what they want.
I have to remember that he isn’t making demands and isn’t necessarily wedded to the things he proposes.
He has to remember to preface his idea-bouncing with, “This is just me trying something out.”
Life is a lot better when we both remember to interpret based on what we knew about the other person, and then validate what we believed we were understanding.
4. Don’t tackle big stuff when you’re emotional
It’s easy to think you have to resolve the issue right now because you’re upset, they’re upset, and it needs to be resolved in order for everyone to stop being upset.
A far better choice is to acknowledge everyone’s upset and choose to tackle the resolution at another time.
But don’t make this an excuse to postpone the conversation. There’s always a temptation to let things go when they’re not in-the-moment hot issues – but if it’s still simmering, it’ll come back onto the boil sooner or later. Much better to take the time when you’re calm to think through what you each want and have the conversation in a quieter moment.
It’s always a practice
I was going to write “practice makes perfect,” but of course, there’s no such thing as reaching perfection in this dance.
But there are always ways to improve, and practice will move you closer.